Eschewing animal products is increasingly being recognized as a legitimate lifestyle choice that promotes health, animal welfare, and more sustainable food production. Here are some of the key reasons plant-based businesses are taking center stage in 2018 — and how you can make changes to reap the same rewards.

A global shift

Plant-based eating is on the rise worldwide, and evidence suggests it’s more than a fad. Millennials and Generation Z are at the forefront of this shift — in Britain, for example, 42 percent of vegans are aged 15 to 34. While the vegan way of life may not be the norm yet, it becomes more popular every year as veganism gets a much-needed image reboot.

With meat- and dairy-free options now much more readily available — and frankly much more appetizing — becoming vegan doesn’t mean munching on alfalfa sprouts while your friends enjoy their burgers. A growing number of celebrities, including Natalie Portman, Ellen DeGeneres, Stevie Wonder, and Beyoncé, are also using their star power to advocate for a plant-based lifestyle.

The numbers

In the US alone, 6 percent of the population now identifies as vegan — an increase of 500 percent since 2014. Meanwhile, plant-based food sales rose by 8.1 percent in 2017, exceeding $3.1 billion, and non-dairy milk is expected to make up 40 percent of dairy and alternative beverages within the next three years.

It’s therefore not massively surprising that the food delivery service Just Eat reported a 987 percent increase in demand for vegetarian and vegan options in 2017. And it’s not only food — the cruelty-free cosmetics market is also set to grow by more than 6 percent between 2017 and 2023, with reports suggesting the current levels of consumer demand for cruelty-free products are just the tip of the iceberg.

Beyond Meat continues to add vegan proteins to its product portfolio — including its latest offering, Beyond Sausage. (Image courtesy of Beyond Meat)

Plant-based food sales on the rise

The following five companies are just a few of many to experience unprecedented sales growth due to the rise of veganism.

Beyond Meat: Based in Los Angeles, Beyond Meat is among the top producers of plant-based meat substitutes.  Its products have been available at Whole Foods since 2013. The brand hails itself as the “future of protein,” with vegan alternatives that look, cook, and satisfy like the real thing. (Read our 2016 interview with Beyond Meat founder Ethan Brown.)

Tofurky: Tofurky is a relatively well-known American meat replacement made from a blend of wheat protein and organic tofu. The company’s ethos is to be kind to people, animals, the environment — and taste buds. Under the tagline “aprons not lab coats,” it focuses on food made in the kitchen, not a petri dish.

Daiya: Canadian dairy alternative company Daiya creates its unique vegan cheeses, sauces, and packaged foods from cassava and arrowroot — giving them a genuine cheese-like consistency and meltability. Daiya products are not only free from dairy, but they also contain zero soy or gluten.

So Delicious: So Delicious creates of some of the most popular dairy-free milks, beverages, desserts, creamers, and yogurts. The company takes sustainability seriously and also implements a robust allergen-testing program on all of its products.

Arbonne: In the world of cosmetics, Arbonne was a vegan company at inception and offers a range of botanical and cruelty-free formulas with no animal-derived ingredients or animal testing involved.

Want to start your own vegan business?

Smart entrepreneurs are starting to catch on to the opportunities presented by the exploding vegan consumer market. If you’re thinking about joining them, here are five quick tips:

1. Make an effort to appeal to non-vegans. You have the opportunity to reach out to a curious audience, but if your approach is too aggressive, you’ll quickly turn them away.

2. Consider the junk food niche. Vegan junk food is a hot trend that’s getting a lot of attention — after all, we all like a little junk food once in a while.

3. Location, location location. Wondering where to set up your vegan business? London, Berlin, and Los Angeles are three of the best cities for vegan businesses — you can find more here. To reach markets outside of your area, you could also try starting your own online store.

4. Talk to your peers.  Before you start writing your business plan, take the time to meet with other ethical entrepreneurs and discuss what worked (and didn’t work) for them.

5. Hire with values. Looking for staff who embrace the vegan ethos? Vegan Mainstream is the ideal place to post vegan and eco-friendly job ads that will attract the right kind of people.

How to make your existing business more vegan-friendly

If you already run your own business, these three simple steps can help you cater more readily to the expanding vegan market.

1. Run before you walk. Remember, you don’t have to do everything at once — small changes still make a difference. The first thing to ask yourself is: Can I feasibly add more vegan options to my product line, or can I make an existing product vegan without too much trouble? Are any of my products already vegan — and can I communicate that more explicitly, if so?

2. Be strategic. Make sure the vegan options you offer are clearly labeled as such — don’t focus only on what’s vegetarian. Likewise, simple additions such as vegan mayo, non-dairy milk, and Barnivore-verified booze will considerably improve the customer experience for your vegan visitors. And when you do start offering vegan-friendly options, be sure to let people know! Share updates on social media, and get in touch with local vegan groups so they can start spreading the word.

3. Educate your employees. Make sure your staff are up-to-date with which of your products are suitable for vegans — and what “veganism” means (hint: it’s not related to gluten-free) — to avoid potentially embarrassing mistakes.

Final thoughts

People choose to embrace veganism for good reasons — most often to reduce animal cruelty, help the environment, and/or protect their health. Ultimately, veganism is a force for good, and your business has the opportunity to embrace it and gain traction as a result. We’re still at the point when entirely vegan businesses are a novelty, with the potential to become radically popular very quickly, but every business can take steps to welcome this growing consumer base.

Has the rise in veganism affected your business? How have you reacted to it? Share your thoughts and experiences with us on social media.

Victoria Greene

Victoria Greene is a branding consultant and freelance writer. On her blog, <a href="https://victoriaecommerce.com/"VictoriaEcommerce, she shares tips on ecommerce and how writers can hone their craft. She is passionate about using her experience to help other writers improve their skills.

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